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>> the long isolated nation of burma is shifting toward democracy, a move encouraged by president obama's visit to the country in late 2012. but how can the u.s. ensure that this emerging south asian state becomes friend not foe? >> it's really a remarkable story, burma, of the past year, year and a half. maybe the most positive development we've seen globally, really. >> this is not a revolution of the people. it's a transformation of a regime, self-motivated to transform. > there have been a number of things that the regime has done that have been very surprising so. one was letting aung san suu kyi out of house arrest. >> the problem may be the expectations of the people now are too high. >> the military is a major wild card in this. (instrumental music) >> narrator: in a democracy, agreement is not essential, but participation is. >> never before in our history
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have we been so interconnected with the rest of the world. >> foreign policy is actually not foreign. >> america has faced great hardship before and each time we have risen to the challenge. >> the ultimate test is to move our society from where it is to where it has never been. >> narrator: join us as we discuss today's most critical global issues. join us for "great decisions." >> great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by credit suisse, eni, the hurford foundation, and pricewaterhousecoopers llp. >> coming up next, the generals and the democrat: burma in transition. (instrumental music)
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>> burma, also known as myanmar, is a nation born from war. a former british colony, burma saw an opportunity for independence at the outset of world war ii. >> in burma, independence day calls for formal celebrations. this week its people have been marking 64 years since the end of british colonial rule. for much of that time burma was tightly controlled by the military. any dissent was ultimately crushed. >> so if you look at the modern history of burma, it starts with general aung san, the father of aung san suu kyi, when world war ii breaks out general aung san sides with the japanese feeling that they hold the best hope of burmese independence. it doesn't take long for general aung san and his colleagues to realize that the japanese are not only using him, are brutal, and he switches sides. he goes to the british side.
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ultimately, of course, the allies win the war. >> the father of aung san suu kyi, who's the father of the nation, was, in fact, the founder of the burmese army, too. that was strongest and most stable institution right from the beginning of the independence of burma. >> he was assassinated very early on during the independence struggle. and has become kind of a martyr, uh, as a nationalist hero. >> no sooner does, you know, is burma independent than suddenly general aung san is assassinated together with his cabinet. >> following the assassination, burma experienced a brief foray into democracy. but in 1962, a military coup put a stop to all that. >> most people don't know we had about 12 years of parliamentary democracy between '48 and '62. >> in 1962 on the supposition by general ne win, who is in charge of the army, that minorities were going
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to try and leave the union of burma. he formed a coup to prevent that from happening. the junta military have been in power since 1962. >> the military took over in '62 and they ran a quasi-socialist, centralized economy. they didn't really understand modern economics and basically ran this very rich country to the ground. >> but it wasn't just the economy that was squashed. anti-government demonstrations were met with brutal violence and burma's jails were soon populated by thousands of political prisoners. in 1988, the violence reached its peak. >> but the biggest opportunity for change was probably in 1988 when the whole nation rose up in protest. mostly it was an economic issue, but, of course, they harbored many other feelings against living under a dictatorship. >> after an estimated 3,000 were killed in the uprisings a new military junta promised
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democratic parliamentary elections would be held in 1990. in that election, aung san suu kyi, nominee for the national league for democracy handily defeated the military candidate. instead, suu ky was put under house arrest where she would spend 15 of the next 21 years. as if to underline what they saw as burma's new era, the generals also changed its name to myanmar. but the u.s. and other western powers refused to recognize the name or the military regime's legitimacy. when the regime continued to ignore election results the u.s. imposed sanctions against burma. they forbid investment in the country and blocked travel for senior burmese officials. >> that policy under both presidents clinton and bush was, in effect, regime change. it said in the reports
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from the state department to the congress every six months basically said, "go back an honor the results of the may, 1990 elections which the opposition swept and then we'll talk to you." (instrumental music) >> myanmar's pro-democracy leader, aung san suu kyi, has hailed her party's performance in sunday's bi-election as a triumph for the people. her national league for democracy says it won almost all the seats it contested, but the election is just a small step toward democracy following decades of military rule. >> for two decades asia experienced huge economic growth, but the heavily-sanctioned burma was left in the dust. >> burma for so many years, unfortunately, has been the outlier in terms of the development of, of asia, southeast asia. and yet if you look at the, the map, the geography,
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it lies between india, and china and thailand, three quite vibrant economies. >> sanctions have been imposed sequentially. they actually got more intense over the past decade and so really it's been pretty much illegal to do business with burma in any form, uh, with the united states for the last few years. this had the effect, i think, of driving the burmese into pretty heavy dependence on china, which is their, by far their biggest trade partner. but actually that seems to have had some impact in this opening, because the chinese i think have been very heavy-handed in their behavior in burma and the burmese didn't want to be dependent to china. >> i think in large part the discrepancy in the quality of life, the economic situation in myanmar compared to the rest of the region was very dramatic and i think the authorities were conscious of their enormous dependency on china. so i'm sure a kind of economic agenda
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probably fed into, also a general sense, that stability and security for the country itself, would come actually not from a continued a very repressive regime, but from the opening up of a democratic space. >> this is an opaque system and so nobody quite knows what the motivation is. some believe it's fear of growing chinese influence and the need to balance that, but also a belief among some of the leaders, the more reformed elements within the military and within the government, that they were lagging far behind in economic development of their neighbors. >> and slowly burma's leaders realized they just couldn't survive. >> what's very unique about myanmar is that contrary to everything that's happened in the arab spring, but at the same time in parallel, uh, it all came from the top. this is not a revolution of the people. it is a transformation of a regime, self-motivated to transform.
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>> former prime minister, former general thein sein becomes the president and on march 30, 2011, he gives an inaugural speech that any democrat could give in the country. amazing, first time since 1962, basically 50 years, and what does he say? he said our education system has collapsed, our health system has collapsed, we've got too much corruption. we aren't paying the minorities well, we gotta reform to do something. never has happened before. >> and then you see people in the government, former military people that you never expected to necessarily be reformists that have proven themselves to want a different future, to want to be proud of their country and be a leader in terms of values and strength in the region. and the president is number one in that regard, president thein sein. >> president sein began his reforms by releasing aung san suu kyi and hundreds of other political prisoners. >> and so he began to take steps and these steps
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have been very, very wide. they include everything from releasing political prisoners, of course, but more than that forming labor unions, having demonstrations, elimin- uh, cutting down on censorship, inviting dissidents back into the country and trying to deal with the minorities in a more equitable way. >> there've been a number of things that the regime has done that have that were very surprising. so one was letting aung san suu kyi out of house arrest, legalizing her party and then they had a bi-election last march in which that the nld was allowed to run and it won, i believe, 44 of 45 open seats. they've liberalized the press considerably. in fact, that's come fairly recently so that they now can be an oppositional press that can criticize the government. >> you must remember that myanmar, in a sense, does have some democrat, democratic antecedence in the sense that it was part of british india in the past
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and the constitutional developments that had taken place in the indian system were present in burma also. so it's not as if they're entirely in a sense unfamiliar with the democratic process. >> suu kyi's party ended years of election boycotts and in 2012 won the few seats open in the military-dominated parliament. another round of elections have been promised for 2015. >> the challenge that kyi has is that she has moved from a democratic icon to the position of a politician and so she will be tested like any other politician. but the challenge for her is that her party only controls approximately seven percent of the seats in the parliament because these were bi-elections. these are not seats for the entire parliament. the parliament will be elected again in 2015 and that will be ultimately the real test. >> it's really quite remarkable the amount of time the, really the elite,
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in a sense, you know, the whole student generation that led the protests in 1988, many of them have been in prison for years. and these people are now free to organize and act and to speak. >> i think everybody's introduction to burma is likely to be because of aung san suu kyi, a remarkable, unique figure, an icon really globally, for democracy and, of course, more than an icon inside her own country. but she'll be the first to say this is not just about her, it can't be just about a single person. it has to be about society at large. >> i think the thing that really amazes me about burma is the strength of civil society. so it's true, it's not just her party the, or her organization, the national league for democracy, but there are all sorts of groups in that country, you know, based on different regions and different interests womens groups and groups that are in favor of greater press freedom and so forth. they've gotten some support from the outside, but basically the country's been so isolated that these people have had to do it on their own.
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religion is very important because it's a very strongly buddhist country and, and most, but not all, of the ethnic regions are that, and so the buddhist monks have been among the leaders of opposition to the military regime. so it's it's amazing, really that it kind of shows you the strength of the human spirit, you know, even under extremely difficult repressive circumstances. >> a free country also means a free economy and foreign nations have taken note. >> everybody today has discovered myanmar from the chinese to u.s. to europeans, to other asians. >> the new law is far more open. there are provisions in the constitution against nationalization, which, of course, foreign firms are very worried about given the past history of that country. but burma is full of natural resources. as the chinese say, "it is a beggar with a golden bowl." >> myanmar has a very strategic location
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and presently china is building two pipelines that go through the western part of myanmar. one pipeline will crude oil from the middle east to the southwestern part of china therefore allowing the chinese ships to avoid the malacca straight, which are time-consuming to go through, but also there are pirates there. secondly there's a natural gas pipeline which allows the chinese to directly import natural gas in the gulf. >> myanmar is a country with considerable natural resources and it's, it's a rich country. and as tao suu, as tao san suu kyi has herself been saying, what it requires is foreign investment taking into consideration the requirements of rule of law, the democratic aspirations, and the need for clean government. i think these are the kinds of priorities which the new government is also pushing. >> they are debating a foreign investment bill, but it's gotten hung up in the burmese parliament.
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there's a tremendous amount to do in the economy before this country really can begin to take advantage of all the natural resources and the tourism. and it's a really very, very beautiful country that a lot of people i think would very much like to see, particularly since it's in a certain way been unspoiled because it's been so isolated up till now, but they're not remotely ready to do that. they want to, but it's a, it's a very slow process. >> the problem may be the expectations of the people now are too high. the expectation of the foreigners may be too high, including the united states. how fast can you move? we, we tend to have conditions on the burmese government that we do not apply to other countries around the world and even in the region. (instrumental music) >> thousands of people have taken to the streets of burma's biggest city, rangoon, to protest against
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power cuts. burma exports a large portion of its energy to china leaving nearly 3/4 of its population without a stable electricity supply. >> burma is still far from reformed and ethnic conflicts threaten to derail the train of progress. >> the central problem of that country is not democracy, in my view, it is the minority relations. this has been true since independence and no government since independence has resolved that issue. approximately 1/3 of the country is made up of minorities, 2/3 are ethnic-burmans who are 99% buddhist. some of the minorities are christian, some are muslim, and some are buddhist as well. but the fear in some burmese sense of sharing of power and resources has never adequately been dealt with in that country and that is in the essential issue that has to be resolved.
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>> myanmar is a very ethnically-diverse country. there are about 135 different ethnicities. many of the groups have been at war with the government. the government now has brokered now about ten cease-fires with various groups. one remains and they're working on it. so i think there is a general recognition that unless the government can really resolve these ethnic issues through a process of national reconciliation many of the reforms that we've seen could actually come to a screeching halt or even reverse, so this is a big priority. >> i don't think that i can say that violence has entirely stopped. there's is still a very fragile situation. there is still a great deal of mistrust among communities. the way in which the government responds and continues to respond, the army continues to respond to these, uh, these challenges will impact on the overall reform process of the government.
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>> also complicating matters is a near non-existent economy. >> when you arrive in burma you are struck by how gone rangoon is just crumbling. the buildings are covered in mold, they are trees literally growing out of the sides of high-rises. the sidewalks have holes in them, huge, gaping holes. >> the, uh, per capita gdp in myamar is about $1000-1200 per person, which is dire poverty. so how to best lift the country out of poverty through democracy-friendly development, through human rights-friendly development i think has got to be a priority. >> burma is in really bad shape economically. so, for example, there's really no banking system. a few years ago the government essentially confiscated all of the bank accounts and so nobody trusts the banks. you cannot use a credit card. if you are foreign tourist in burma you have to bring crisp $100 bills into the country to pay for your hotel because they won't accept credit cards. >> perhaps the biggest obstacle
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to reform is the military government's track record. >> these have really quite remarkable reforms. now, are they real people ask? you know, some of the opposition people, uh, people who feel that the military government which evolved into the present government is not really legitimate. they, uh, they say, no, these are phony. but also the question is the capacity to deliver on this. after all, there's gonna be an election in 2015, that is a critical election. probably president thein sein will not run again he's older and he's not well supposedly. and the question then will be how much of these reforms can be instituted before 2015? >> a lot of money coming into a poorly-capacitated country where the education was devastated for 50 years. it's gonna make things worse, and if you start investing without accountability and transparency, it's just going to basically
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entrench the special interests, the crony capitalists, the oligarchs. and it's gonna keep some of the same power structure, even if they call themselves, you know, civilians, they're still former generals. (instrumental music) >> it is a historic day for president obama and for the people of myanmar as it transitions towards democracy. during the first visit by a sitting u.s. president, mr. obama pledged that the u.s. will be friends with any nation that respects its people rights and international law. >> the question now is how the u.s. can help burma become a modern democratic nation while ensuring that burmese leaders hold up their end of the bargain. president obama's historic visit in 2012 was a nudge in the right direction. >> today i say to you the united states of america is with you, including those
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who have been forgotten, those who are dispossessed, those who are ostracized, those who are poor. >> the obama administration came in and they did a study of six countries, of which burma was one, and they said, let's look at this. they said, okay, we will have a high-level dialogue. the result was the burmese government sent signals to the u.s. that they were interested. the u.s. sent signals back. we send signals, they send signals and we began to build this up and it reached a fruition, if you will, with hillary clinton, secretary of state's visit to burma in early december of 2011. >> there are a number of things that we want to accomplish. first of all, of course, is to continue this momentum that we've seen. this really remarkable story, burma, of the past year, year and a half, maybe the most positive development we've seen globally, really. number two, related to this, is we want to engage with the private sector, the economics, the business, along with our values. we want to continue to promote american values of openness, transparency, democratic
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development and do it in partnership with the private sector so that it's a win-win for, uh, for all of us. >> there's a lot of assistance they... that we can give them in terms of trying to rebuild some of these basic institutions. obviously we have to be careful to lift sanctions in a way that doesn't benefit all of the crony capitalists that were close to the old regime, but i think we need to lift them in a way that will allow foreign investment to take place so that the economy can start to grow. >> the u.s. does put conditions on and we're still in the process of figuring out exactly what those conditions are going to be, but the idea is to have transparency, accountability in all the undertakings and to not repeat the abuses of the past with forced labor or raping the environment. it is our impression here at the u.s. asean business council that that is in keeping with the reform agenda of the, of the present government and, and we're working in the hopes
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that that's true because our companies, wherever they go, want transparency, accountability adherence to the highest environmental standards. >> and american investment in burma would have some added strategic benefit. >> there's a geopolitical dimension of it as well. myanmar was closer to china. then there's an opportunity for the u.s. and the west to have an influence on economic and even political affairs of this important and strategically-located country. so, it's not just a game of economic and business opportunities, but also a broader geopolitical influence on an important country in the asian region. >> we don't need to run an anti-chinese foreign policy, but i think, you know, broadly speaking, it's, it's, it's good to have a, a southeast asia that's democratic, market-oriented, integrated into the global economy and burma was one piece of that that was missing and so i think we have
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a strong interest into a good u.s/burma relationship. >> for washington that means moving quickly, but cautiously. it remains to be seen whether democratic leaders are up to the challenge and whether the military's promises for reform are genuine. >> everybody's excited about the process of reform inside the country. there's tremendous optimism among many inside the country that there is a new beginning, a new possibility inside burma. of course, though we have things that we remain concerned about and people inside remain concerned about. the military is a major wild card in this. it was a military-run government for 50 years and the military has special position within the constitution in ways that are not democratic, that don't allow for civilian control. this is not an inevitable process. >> remember for 50 years legally you couldn't read about democracy. they wouldn't allow any imported books. there was nothing in the school system to enable this to happen. democracy is a process, it's an evolution.
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you don't get instant democracy, and you will never the kind of democracy, as i think the united states has now learned, just by saying, "okay, this is an instant democracy "in egypt, or libya, or any other place you want to name. >> frankly, we need to understand each other better. uh, we need to learn about each other. we've been alienated from each other for too long. we have, i think, fairly positive images of the other's cultures, but i think there's a lot learning to do and that's what i intend to do as ambassador. >> as burma moves down the road of democratic reform and the levels of power change hands one thing is clear facilitating the transition to a stable democracy in burma will require great decisions. >> to join a discussion group in your area or order a dvd of this series, visit or call 1-800-477-5836. great decisions is produced by
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the foreign policy association, inspiring americans to learn more about the world. sponsorship of great decisions is provided by credit suisse, eni, the hurford foundation, and pricewaterhousecoopers llp. >> next time on great decisions: for 63 years the u.s. has been part of the nato alliance, but is nato still an important safeguard for americans or is it simply a money pit? joint strike: nato and the u.s. in the 21st century. next time on great decisions.
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Great Decisions in Foreign Policy
WHUT February 11, 2013 8:30am-9:00am EST

The Generals and the Democrat Myanmar in... News/Business. (2013) Myanmar's military leaders implement democratic and economic reforms. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY U.s. 14, China 8, Burma 5, Obama 3, United States 3, Nato 3, Kyi 3, Eni 2, Us 2, Rangoon 2, Myanmar 2, Southeast Asia 2, India 2, Asia 1, Suu Ky 1, Mr. Obama 1, Hillary Clinton 1, Clinton 1, The Map 1, Aung San Suu Kyi 1
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